Pirates or Freedom Fighters?

Posted April 21st, 2015 at 10:29 am (UTC-4)
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Photo: Richard Termini for Horizon Theatre Rep

Horizon Theatre Rep 2011 production of Benito Cereno by Robert Lowell, Directed by Woodie King Jr. Photo: Richard Termini for Horizon Theatre Rep

This week’s American Stories features the second part of Herman Melville’s story, “Benito Cereno.” We learned in the first part of the story that the ship Melville called the San Dominick was carrying slaves from Chile to Peru in 1799. This was part of the slave trade that took place in the Spanish colonial empire. The slaves took charge of the ship one night. They asked the captain to take them to a place where they could be free.

In the second part of the story, another ship finds the San Dominick. The captain of that ship came aboard to see what was wrong. He noticed the disorder on the ship.

Reading this story, I felt sympathy for the slaves. They were sold in Africa and brought across the Atlantic Ocean to South America. They were forced to work for the Spanish colonists. Life must have been very hard for them.

So who is at fault here? The sailors who agree to transport slaves or the slaves who want to be free? Are the slaves pirates for trying to take the ship, or are they fighting for the freedom they deserve? Should the sailors take the slaves to freedom or turn them in to continued enslavement?

Jaymes Jorsling and Rafael De Mussa in Benito Cereno - Photo: Richard Termini for Horizon Theatre Rep (Courtesy Photo)

Jaymes Jorsling and Rafael De Mussa in Benito Cereno – Photo: Richard Termini for Horizon Theatre Rep (Courtesy Photo)

This story may remind you of a situation in your country’s history. Write to us in the comments section.

 

Yours,

Dr. Jill

What does it mean to be a citizen?

Posted February 20th, 2015 at 4:34 pm (UTC-4)
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A movement has begun in the United States to require that high school students pass a test on U.S. history and government before they graduate. The test is the same one given to immigrants who want to become naturalized citizens.

We-The-People

Our education report this weekend tells about new state laws on the requirement. The laws caused some debate among educators. They say students have enough tests already. One more test will not make them better citizens, they think.

On the other hand, some think there is not enough instruction on how to be a good citizen in a democracy. A sign of this is the low number of voters who participate in U.S. elections.

Supporters of the new laws think the test will encourage schools to spend more effort teaching this subject, which is called civics. When Americans think of civics, we often think of taking part in activities to improve our community, volunteering, or supporting our favorite candidates for public office.

What do you think about this movement? Does the education system in your country focus on how to be a good citizen? Do schools teach students to be active members of their communities? How would you describe what  ’good citizens’ in your community do?

Write a paragraph or two giving your opinion in the comments section. I will give you feedback on your grammar and writing.

Dr. Jill

 

Good Academic Writing Doesn’t Have to Be A Struggle

Posted January 15th, 2015 at 10:23 am (UTC-4)
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Now that you’ve heard our Writing Tips story, let’s take a look at a writing templates from They Say, I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. A template is a model or preset format for a document.

Here is one of the most basic templates to get your paper started.

In discussions of X, one of the controversial issues has been________________. On one hand, ___________________argues______________________. On the other hand,________________________argues________________________. Even others maintain__________________.  My own view is ____________________________.

 

Here’s an example of the template filled out.

In discussions of the Charlie Hebdo attack one of the controversial issues has been the limits of free speech. On one hand, free speech advocates say that speech should never be regulated, even when it is offensive and blasphemous. On the other hand, some people believe that those who insult religion are asking for trouble and should be stopped. Even others maintain that Western countries are hypocritical about free speech. My own view is that we must find a middle ground between free speech and showing respect for religious faith…

Now it’s your turn. Try filling out the template above with another controversial issue that you’re interested in. Keep it simple. We’ll give feedback to those who stick to the template form. We look forward to hearing from you!

–Adam

 

Who would you want in your lifeboat?

Posted January 2nd, 2015 at 10:09 am (UTC-4)
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SS Commodore

SS Commodore

Our American Stories episode for this week is Stephen Crane’s ‘The Open Boat.‘ In this story, we learn about the experience Crane had after his ship sank on to way to Cuba.  He was on the ship SS Commodore, a steamship. He left from Jacksonville, Florida, on December 31, 1896. Crane was going to report on the war in Cuba. The ship sank on January 2, 1897. Crane and three other men got into a 3-meter-long dinghy. They only reached land 30 hours later.

In the story, we find that the men help each other row the boat and give each other emotional support. I thought as I read this story, “Who would I like to be in my lifeboat?” I imagined what it would be like if a was on a ship that sank. How would I survive in a small boat in the ocean?

Stephen Crane was in a lifeboat with the captain of the SS Commodore, the cook, and a sailor. The captain was good at finding the right direction for the boat to go. The sailor was good at rowing.

Woodcut Courtesy of Robert Quakenbush

Woodcut Courtesy of Robert Quakenbush

In my imaginary lifeboat, I would like someone with strong arms who could row and steer the boat. Also, I would like someone with a cheerful outlook on life to keep the rest of us from being too sad. And I would  like someone who could sing, to pass the hours as we waited for rescue.

I hope I always travel on a boat with my husband, because he would have all of these qualities. So I would make sure to get in the same lifeboat as my husband.

How about you? Write in the comments about the people or person you would most like to be with in a lifeboat.

Dr. Jill Robbins

 

 

How do Martians Raise Their Children?

Posted December 11th, 2014 at 6:08 pm (UTC-4)
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Dear Readers,

Cover of First Printing of A Princess of Mars

Our story in this week’s American Stories is the third part of A Princess of Mars, in which we learn about the Princess Dejah Thoris, a scientist from the city of Helium. She is captured by the green Martians, who will use her in their deadly games.

Sola, a green Martian warrior, explains to John Carter, the Earth human who is telling the story, how her mother died in those games. Sola’s mother broke the rules of her tribe by raising her daughter separately from those of the other children of the tribe. She explains that her tribe forbids children to know who their parents are and parents to know who their children are:

No, John Carter. My mother died in the games. That is a secret you must not tell anyone. The wall where Tars Tarkas found you held eggs that produce our young. All the children belong to the tribe. A mother never knows which child is hers when they come out of the egg.
My mother hid the egg that carried me. It was not placed within the walled area.  She kept her secret until after I was born.  But others discovered her secret and she was condemned to die in the games. She hid me among other children before she was captured. If this secret were learned, I too would die in the games.
Before she left me, my mother told me the name of my father. I alone keep that secret. It would mean death for him as well as me. My people are violent and cruel.

This concept struck me when I read it. I can understand the reason the tribe developed a practice like this: if all are responsible for each member of the tribe equally, they will share with others and not show favoritism for any one individual.

However, the tribe seems to be very warlike, and I wonder if this child-raising practice supports that kind of society. The tribe trains its members to fight against other groups of Martians. Their loyalty is to their own tribe, not to a family group. I guess that this practice – raising their young as members of the tribe but not of a family, means they will be more cruel and violent as warriors.

How would this work on Earth? Do you know of any cultures that raise children in groups, rather than as individuals? What effect does this have on the psychology of the child?

Write in the comments to share your ideas on the Martian practice of raising their children – and how this would work if it was done on Earth.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Dr. Jill Robbins

#TravelThursday – Thanksgiving Traffic!

Posted November 26th, 2014 at 12:15 pm (UTC-4)
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TURKEY TRAFFIC

Hello, and happy #TravelThursday!

We are in the middle of one of the busiest travel weeks of the year here in the U.S., as people travel to see families and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Nearly 44 million people travel during the Thanksgiving holiday, with about 90 percent traveling by car!

Here are a few common expressions used to describe all of the craziness that comes with traveling during one of the busiest times of year.

With so many cars on the roads, you’re bound to get stuck in traffic or encounter a traffic jam. This happens when traffic is at or near a standstill because of road construction, an accident, or just a very large number of vehicles on the road.

On the roads and highways, cars are bumper to bumper — an expression used to describe vehicles that are in a line one after another and are moving very slowly or not at all! The ‘bumper’ is a bar across the front or back of a car that reduces the damage if the car hits something.

Let’s hope you stay patient and don’t have road rage — anger caused by the stress involved in driving a car in difficult conditions.

Of course, airports, train stations, and bus stations are also packed with people. In fact, we can say people are packed like sardines — an expression that means many people are in a relatively small space. A sardine is a very small fish. You can buy many, many sardines in a small can, which is, of course, the inspiration for this common expression.

While all of the crowds and traffic can drive you crazy, it’s worth it to have the chance to spend the holidays with family and friends!

What are the busiest travel times in your country? Share a travel experience you have had during those times!

Part 5 of Special Report: Why He Chose to Leave this Good Land?

Posted November 21st, 2014 at 4:18 pm (UTC-4)
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Despite a string of military defeats and international isolation, Al-Shabab remains a visible force in parts of Somalia. In this September 2014 photo, Shabab militants staged a show of force in a town near Mogadishu, just before they were driven out. (VOA/Radio Al Furqaan)

Despite a string of military defeats and international isolation, Al-Shabab remains a visible force in parts of Somalia. In this September 2014 photo, Shabab militants staged a show of force in a town near Mogadishu, just before they were driven out. (VOA/Radio Al Furqaan)

Our colleagues at VOA have recently produced Why He Chose To Leave This Good Land? a  special report on the radicalization of some young Somali-Americans. This week, we have focused on one section of the article each day.

Please note that this report is not adapted to the Special English style, so it is more appropriate for advanced learners who use our site.

You can read the full report at http://projects.voanews.com/isis-recruit-somali-americans/ 

Today’s quote is from the final section, called, A lone wolf mission, you know the rest.

Several years ago, both Sheikh Omar and Sheikh Hassan endorsed the call for jihad, for people to join the fight against the Ethiopians, a call that Hassan maintains was justified.

“To wage jihad against Ethiopia when it invaded the country was obligatory, if there is doubt in anybody’s mind,” Hassan said at a VOA roundtable discussion September 16. “That was a legitimate jihad.” … Sheikh Hassan has denied that any worshippers from the Da’wah Center have ended up in Syria. If they did, he said, he and his mosque weren’t responsible.

“The door of my mosque is open for everyone. We don’t ask people when they come, we don’t ask when we open the door: ‘Are you from ISIS or al-Shabab?’ When they leave, we don’t ask them: ‘are you going to al-Shabab or are you going to ISIS?’ We cannot ask,” he told VOA. “Anybody can come. Those who come, as you say, one or two may go, we are not responsible and we don’t tell people to go and kill others. We tell the opposite.”

Our question for today is:

How are radical groups recruiting young Muslims in the United States, according to this report? What do you think the community should do to counter that recruitment?

Please give us your answer in the comment section below. I sincerely hope that you have increased your knowledge and expanded your vocabulary by reading this special report with me this week.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Dr. Jill

____________________________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

crucible – n. a place or situation that forces people to change or make difficult decisions

hypocrisyn. the behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do; behavior that does not agree with what someone claims to believe or feel

ideology – n.  the set of ideas and beliefs of a group or political party

authoritativeadj. having the confident quality of someone who is respected or obeyed by other people

Part 4 of Special Report: Why He Chose to Leave this Good Land?

Posted November 20th, 2014 at 4:17 pm (UTC-4)
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Our colleagues at VOA have recently produced Why He Chose To Leave This Good Land? a  special report on the radicalization of some young Somali-Americans. This week, we are focusing on one section of the article each day.

Please note that this report is not adapted to the Special English style, so it is more appropriate for advanced learners who use our site.

Young people leaving the Islamic Da’waah Center in St. Paul, Minnesota

Young people leaving the Islamic Da’waah Center in St. Paul, Minnesota

You can read the full report at http://projects.voanews.com/isis-recruit-somali-americans/ 

Today’s quote is from the section called, Is it True You’re a Terrorist?

Last month, a Somali American man, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for trying to detonate a bomb at a holiday tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon, in November 2010.  He was arrested after his parents told the FBI they feared he was becoming radicalized. Later, parents and relatives complained of entrapment, saying Mohamud had been lured into the bomb plot by FBI agents intent on arresting a terrorist.

“They stop you when you’re walking home from your job, ‘So I hear your name is Mohammed and you’re going to that mosque. Is it true that you’re a terrorist?’” said Yassin Mohamed Abdullahi, a 14-year-old studying at the Da’waah Center. “It’s things like that you know that cause this spark of anger, hatred, mistrust in between the two parties … the Somalis and the FBI.”

Our question for today is:

According to the report, what are other complaints about the relationship of Muslim immigrants to U.S. law enforcement authorities? What do you think about this relationship?

Please give us your answer in the comment section below, and come back tomorrow for another question.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Dr. Jill

____________________________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

harass – to annoy or bother (someone) in a constant or repeated way (harassment – state of being harassed)

surveillance - n. the act of carefully watching someone or something especially in order to prevent or detect a crime (surveilled - past tense verb form)

radicalizev. to cause (someone or something) to become more radical especially in politics

vigilant – carefully noticing problems or signs of danger

Part 3 of Special Report: Why He Chose To Leave This Good Land?

Posted November 19th, 2014 at 4:16 pm (UTC-4)
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Our colleagues at VOA have recently produced Why He Chose To Leave This Good Land? a  special report on the radicalization of some young Somali-Americans. This week, we are focusing on one section of the article each day.

Please note that this report is not adapted to the Special English style, so it is more appropriate for advanced learners who use our site.

Somali shoppers at a  specialized shopping mall in Minneapolis

Somali shoppers at a specialized shopping mall in Minneapolis

You can read the full report at http://projects.voanews.com/isis-recruit-somali-americans/ 

Today’s quote is from the second section, called State of failure:

Today’s quote is from the section called State of failure:

Like many Muslim groups in the United States, Somalis also faced hard suspicion after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

“Kids are being recruited. Yes, this is a fact. What are we going to do about it? We have to talk about the root causes that makes Somali kids vulnerable…. how do we fight poverty, bad school systems, the lack of opportunities,” Fartun Weli said. “The one thing we need to do is, if being Muslim can make us the worst victim in the United States, we have to make sure there are opportunities created for our community to exit poverty.”

For younger Somalis thrown into public school systems and dense neighborhoods like Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside, protection from outsiders came from gangs, like the “Somali Hot Boyz” and “Madhibaan with Attitude.”

While many Somalis have adapted slowly to American life, a sense of alienation persists for some, giving an opening for recruiters from Al-Shabab and Islamic State.

Our question for today is:

How does the report explain the connection between gang activity and radical militant recruitment? What do you think the authorities or community should do about the gang activity?

Please give us your answer in the comment section below, and come back tomorrow for another question.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Dr. Jill

____________________________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

alienationn. feeling that one no longer belongs in a particular group, society, etc

criminal recordn. a known record of having been arrested in the past for committing a crime

vulnerableadj. easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally

common denominator n. something (such as a feature or quality) that is shared by all the members of a group of people or things

 

 

Part 2 of Special Report: Why He Chose to Leave this Good Land?

Posted November 18th, 2014 at 4:14 pm (UTC-4)
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We are following up on the VOA Special Report on the radicalization of Somali refugees in the US.

 

While many Somalis have adapted slowly to American life, a sense of alienation persists for some, giving an opening for recruiters from Al-Shabab and Islamic State. In this September 27, 2013, file photo, young women play basketball before the start of a rally by the Minneapolis Somali community against terrorism. (Reuters)

While many Somalis have adapted slowly to American life, a sense of alienation persists for some, giving an opening for recruiters from Al-Shabab and Islamic State. In this September 27, 2013, file photo, young women play basketball before the start of a rally by the Minneapolis Somali community against terrorism. (Reuters)

Our colleagues at VOA have recently produced Why He Chose To Leave This Good Land? a  special report on the radicalization of some young Somali-Americans. This week, we are focusing on one section of the article each day.

Please note that this report is not adapted to the Special English style, so it is more appropriate for advanced learners who use our site.

You can read the full report at http://projects.voanews.com/isis-recruit-somali-americans/ 

Today’s quote is from the second section, called State of failure:

With the [Somali] government’s collapse in 1991 and the country’s descent into chaos, Somalis fled en masse, to refugee camps in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen, then onto Europe and North America. More than 1.5 million scattered around the world. More than 50,000 now live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region… But Somali families have suffered disproportionately from unemployment, poverty, mental health problems and crime. Community activists estimate as many as 3,000 Somali men may be in the criminal justice system—under arrest, imprisoned, on parole. Some 20 percent of Somalis lack jobs. Another estimate based on U.S. Census data found only 50 percent of working-age Somalis had jobs.

Our question for today is:

What does the report say are some of the root causes of the problems Somali refugees have in the United States? What do you think should be done to correct these problems?

Please give us your answer in the comment section below, and come back tomorrow for another question.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Dr. Jill

____________________________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

adaptationn.  the process of changing to fit some purpose or situation

disenfranchisementn. the state of feeling powerless; not having the rights of citizens such as the right to vote

jihad n. a war fought by Muslims to defend or spread their beliefs

infrastructuren. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country, region, or organization to function properly

About

About

Confessions of an English Learner is a place for you to practice your writing and share the joys and pains of learning the language. We will post a weekly prompt, to give you a chance to practice your writing and to comment on others’ writing.

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